After a lockdown spent authoring her latest offering, “Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine”, Antonella Gambotto-Burke is about to hit us with some alt-rock goodness from band collaboration, AF. FIB chats with Antonella prior to debut single release – “I Didn’t See It Coming” – due out later this year.
Antonella wears many hats. Author, mother, musical aficionado. She’s a singer-songwriter. Mensan. Teetotaller. Aspie. Italian-Australian. Ex-NME (Cliff Richard sued over one of her reviews and Nick Cave wrote a song about her). She turned Playboy down. Loves Amyl & the Sniffers, Emma Ruth Rundle, The Naked Ra, Amy Winehouse, Nirvana and Powfu’s Death Bed (Coffee for your Head).
Her best friend is a South London boxer with chipped teeth and a thing for acid. She spent lockdown writing Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, out June 9. Motto: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog”.
Antonella’s latest contribution to the creative arts is AF… Alt-rock earworms with 90s roots, a shot of reggae, some punk, psychedelia, and with Jagger, sex and wit in the funnel. The vibe is poetic, surreal, unforgettable. The sound is cool and loose AF. The intention is to change everything.
“I Didn’t See It Coming” is …
AF’s debut single, inspired by 90s guitar rock, true events and e. e. cummings.
Check out FIB’s exclusive interview with AF’s Antonella, below…
Thanks for your time, Antonella. You’ve been extremely busy recently, working on Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine (now available for pre-order). What was it like writing in lockdown?
The last two years have been crazy.
I signed the contract for Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine a few weeks before the first lockdown, so worked nonstop through all three lockdowns.
A month or so after the final lockdown, by which time I felt like I was bleeding from the head, I finished the book.
Everything was poured into Apple – you know, the story of what really happened with Nick Cave, my experience of sex, of birth, and my spin on contemporary music, porn, sexual deviation, the global explosion of anxiety and substance use disorders, and so much more. The cast is stellar. Syd Barrett, Ian Brady, Albert Camus, Michael Dransfield, Shulamith Firestone, Whitney Houston, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Mapplethorpe, Picasso, Vivienne Westwood, you name it.
Apple was insanely demanding – the bibliography is ridiculous, acres and acres of studies and hard science. The experience of writing it was gripping, shocking. I was ruthless with myself, asking all the hard questions, and never gave an inch. One chapter had me in tears for weeks.
There are a number of world firsts in Apple, particularly in relation to depression, drugs, fashion, philosophy, and human sexuality.
In short, writing it was a mind-blowing experience, but I need time before I can tackle the sequel as Apple ate my brain. There was just so much data to analyse and contextualise that I had no time or energy to think about anything else.
The sense of relief on completing Apple was out of this world. Dobby was free!
And you’ve formed a band, AF. Your sound is alt-rock with 90s roots fused with reggae, punk and psychedelia. How did AF come about?
In late 2019, Youth [the world-renowned producer and Killing Joke bassist] told me that I should sing as my voice has “the right resonance”. Over the years, numerous musicians had asked me to sing – Creation Records’ Alan McGee even wanted me to sing with the Jesus and Mary Chain – but I always choked.
When Youth said it, I believed him, I don’t know why.
Lockdown hit a few weeks after I decided to start a band and all my musical plans hit the wall, so I focused on writing Apple. Before I’d finished the book, a man I’d never met approached me on social media and asked if I needed a musician – this was seriously weird, as I’d planned to put my feelers out after completing the book – so I took it as a sign. Hello AF.
Never having been in a band, I expected it to work the way writing projects do – in a linear, logical fashion – but discovered that musicians are very, very different animals to writers.
It has been the steepest learning curve of my life.
Male musicians in particular are so fucking emotional. Some are hysterical, volatile, precious. Others think they’re on tour with the Stones in 1969. Lead guitarists are the worst – don’t get me started. [Laughs] Bassists, I discovered are the nicest. So the whole experience was – and continues to be – intense. AF went through a number of line-up changes for different reasons, including crack addiction. At times, I felt like I was in Spinal Tap.
Despite all this, I Didn’t See It Coming is super-close to being released, and we’re working out how we’re going to shoot the video, which is going to be TOTALLY GORGEOUS.
And AF stands for…?
As Fuck and Af, the Angel of Light. Our music is an amalgam of the two principles.
Tell me a bit about your latest single, I Didn’t See It Coming:
I Didn’t See It Coming is a true story. It was close to midnight. London at the height of Summer. I was sitting on the fragrant, shadowy grass in Tavistock Square Gardens with a darling friend, and – this was pretty shocking, actually – we suddenly kissed. Skyrockets in flight, all that. I mean, it was just magical, not because I was in love – I wasn’t – but because we were just so fucking happy.
We’d had the best evening – out to a gallery and dinner, a walk by the canals, and he wanted to go to a park. This guy and I can talk for England, the conversation never stops, and we were just laughing and gossiping and having the most brilliantly silly time, and the kiss, in its unexpectedness, kind of encapsulated everything and our connection shifted onto a different level.
There are portals in life to joy and that kiss was one of them, maybe because it was so unexpected. It was a thing in itself and completely perfect.
Which is why I wanted to capture all the levels of that exhilaration in a song.
A handful of chords and the melody suddenly came to me, then the lyrics followed. The first verse:
That paisley in the moonlight’s extra-terrestrial
You’ve talked your way around the world, Millennial
Trickster with vanilla slice mouth straight from Greggs
Skinny boyfriend jeans on skinny boyfriend legs
When I mustered the courage to sing I Didn’t See It Coming to my friend, he looked stunned. “Antonella, your voice!” he said, because he had no idea I could sing. Nobody did. And he was really moved, which moved me.
And what is your production process like? Do you work in-studio or do you have a home set up?
Oh, boy. No. I wish! Tech has never been my strong suit.
We started with one producer and had a brilliant time in the studio but then it all went pear-shaped. The guitar stems [files] were contaminated – the producer had left the speakers on – the levels were all over the place, the instruments were out of time, it just wasn’t working.
And then the deliriously brilliant Gavin Monaghan, Robert Plant’s producer, came on board and everything changed. Working at Magic Garden Studios has been like working on a different planet. The man is an extra-terrestrial. He sees four levels of music simultaneously – not hears, but sees. He plays every instrument perfectly. I mean, it’s just uncanny. And he is so lovely. And so respectful. And so straightforward. And so intelligent. So now we’re working on an EP, and have plans for further projects together.
Music is very, very different to writing. The collaboration alone requires nuclear levels of equanimity.
Who are some of your favourite musical acts right now?
I saw Quasimodo and The Naked Ra recently and fell in love with both. That driving rawness. Sasha Assad is fantastic – Egyptian-British, so iconoclastic. I love her music and her aesthetic. Young women always feel they have to shake their tits about to get attention, but she’s out there looking grumpy in her dad trousers, flannelette shirts and trucker caps, just playing her guitar and singing like a motherfucker.
Ma Polaine’s Great Decline I adore. Beth’s voice is so captivatingly eerie. Their songs are straight out of a dream. I love love love Powfu. Everything he writes is straight from the heart: boom. Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head) is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking songs ever written. I cry every time I hear it.
Amyl and the Sniffers are searing. The blinding brilliance of Amy’s energy. Her jackhammer vocals. The compellingly uneasy relationship between her hope and rage. And the songs!
I love everything about live music, always have.
What do you think is one of the biggest issues facing the music industry in 2022?
Where to begin? The death of art? The relationship between money and art? Or the difficulty of adapting to the disorientating speed of technological sophistication?
The problem with music is that it’s dependent on technology to be accessible, and every platform processes music differently. Elevator music starts playing in my brain when people talk about this – I hate tech – but it’s a pivotal issue, as every musician knows.
In addition to this, there’s the issue of fair pay. Inexplicably, people now expect to access art for free.
There’s an assumption that a band is a group of people who get together, smoke, and magically produce music – in short, a party. That can happen, but the real work takes place AFTER the party. The amount of work that goes into the creation of a single song is staggering – untold numbers of revisions, new collaborations, re-workings, rewriting, shifts in emphasis, rehearsals, changes of players, production, live performances. It’s just so physical and emotional and hard work, you know?
People complain that everything on the charts is generic – and they are, for the most part, right – but that’s because musicians, in an effort to make a living, write generic music because very few people support the experimentation necessary for true innovation. It also requires an effort from music lovers. Support the bands you love, always. Keep the art – and artists – alive. Don’t just stream, buy.
On a global scale, art is nowhere right now. AF is working to change that.
I Didn’t See It Coming is due out later in the month. Subscribe to the AF newsletter @ www.afmusiclondon.com for updates.
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Follow Antonella on www.instagram.com/gambottoburke
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